Suicide is not exactly a funny topic. But new novelist Andrea Seigel tackles a strange death wish in "Like the Red Panda," and makes it funny too. Incisive, sharp-edged and smart, this look at the final two weeks of high school for a girl who is far and away the wisest person in her community.
Stella is brainy, pretty and wise beyond her years, about to graduate from high school. Up until this week, she was planning on going to Princeton -- now, she wants to die before she gets there. She deliberately flunks tests, ponders her teachers, and contemplates the absurdity of schoolwork (bouncing imaginary balls) and classmates (while befriending the class weirdo).
As the school year winds down, Stella visits her bedridden, emotionally abusive grandfather -- discovering that they have more in common than she thought. She also ponders the loss of her parents when she was eleven, an event that shaped her personality from then on, and the colorless life she has had with her nervous foster parents. In those two weeks, Stella decisely works on how to best leave the world, observing as it moves past her.
While "Catcher in the Rye" is referenced from time to time -- including the observation that you'd want to strangle Holden in real life -- Stella is a wholly different person. This story is a morbid comedy, where "Catcher" is more of an angry-young-man/coming-of-age tale. And it's that very mix of wit and darkness that makes "Like the Red Panda" so exceptional -- few authors could handle such a plot without making it trite or maudlin.
Rarely could cocaine/heroin ODs be considered romantic or amusing. But Stella ponders the weird romantic streak in her parents' deaths (their "hearts snapped in tandem") at her eleventh birthday party. She looks back on them -- and her life -- with a mix of honesty and affection. She's not heartless, just brutally honest about herself and the world.
Seigel does display some first-time difficulties -- she climaxes Stella's problems with her foster parents by having an awkward blowup. And Stella's relationship with her drug-dealing boyfriend seems tacked in. However, her prose is wonderfully written, with a sort of detached grace as Stella observes the little things, from sex to religion. Sprinkled in are wry observations, like the Jewish temple that her foster parents go to: services are held on Sundays, because "this benefited cross-religion plan-making on the weekends."
Stella is not a female Holden clone -- where Holden is resentful, she is quietly brutal. She's witty, wry and thoroughly engaging for smart, philosophical young women. Her foster parents are pale characters, especially when compared to her exuberant druggie parents. And her classmates and teachers are gifted with little quirks and oddities, but not to the point of being caricatures.
"Like the Red Panda" is an excellent first novel for Andrea Seigal. Rather than going into "angry young woman" territory, she opts for a funny, dark, strange journey into Stella's mind. While Seigel has some beginner's problems to iron out, her beautifully written debut is highly recommended.
This was not an easy book for me to read. Stella is two weeks away from graduating at the top of her high school class. She however has other plans, committing suicide.
Although parts of this book were very funny, and Stellas wry observations of high school life were on target, for the most part the book did nothing for me. While at times I felt some sympathy for Stella and her difficult life, in general I didnt like her much and though she was whining just a little too much for me. Many of the characters in this book were not well fleshed out, and I found the character of Ainsley, Stellas erstwhile friend, to be the most intriguing character in the book.
The author of this book is only 23 years old, and I think this is an author to keep an eye on. With some more maturity in her character development I think she will become a very gifted writer.
This book explores the last week of a young senor in high school as she anticipates commiting suicide. It sounds morbid - and it is. On the outside she looks like the model student, but her inner life is a mess. Writing about what one's last week would be like if it was their last is not easy. It isn't the sort of happy story where one finds out they are really important to others and shouldn't kill themselves. It is deep and introspective.
I picked it up primarily because the author went to Brown University in RI - and was my age. It just called to me from the shelf - and I really liked it.
This was a super fast read, interesting and at times a little disturbing, of a climactic period in a teenage girl's life.
Although somewhat disturbing, this novel provides great insight into the pressure of high school life today.
This is a deep, well written book about a teen's senior year of high school. I was drawn in from the very first page. This is a sad book, though there is also some very clever humor here. A very honest book.